New report states the case for nonprofits to embrace direct action

Activists, academics and residents come together to discuss findings of new report on direct action

A women holds a sign declaring "an organized parkdale can win"
Residents of 1251 King Street celebrate their victory in the 2017 rent strike.  Photo courtesy Parkdale Organize

In a small featureless meeting room at Toronto’s Metro Hall, the future of tenant activism was being discussed. The occasion? A meeting of tenant activists, academics and residents to reveal a new document: Demanding the Right to Housing and Right to the City.

The main thrust of the report was that tenant activists and nonprofits could benefit from working more closely together.

“Often times our goals are similar, activists can generate lots of energy for nonprofit initiatives,” Auguste said. 

The report, an effort by Professor Martine Auguste from the University of Waterloo and Cole Webber of Parkdale Community Legal Services with support from nonprofit Maytree.

The report makes the case for the efficacy of ground-up community organizing, while also showing how nonprofits can do more to support the development of this kind of activism. 

Tenant activism 

A Parkdale highrise, typical of those where direct action campaigns against landlords work best.

Toronto experienced the power of tenant activism first hand in 2017 when Parkdale residents of 1251 King ST W, staged a rent strike against landlord Nuspor Investments.

Angry tenants withheld payment of their rents after Nuspor announced an above guideline rent increase (AGI) at its King Street property. Even going as far as mailing flyers to Nuspor’s presidents neighborhood. After nearly three months of action the landlord relented and dropped the increase. 

It’s a trend that’s spreading around Ontario too. In 2018 residents of Hamilton’s Stoney Creek Towers began withholding payment of their rents to protest an AGI.

“All they talk about is Parkdale”

Martine Auguste

While the year before that residents of Ottawa’s Herongate complex organized to stop a series of Evictions by landlord Timbercreek who sought to increase rents and evict tenants. 

Though the last two actions were not as successful as the Parkdale strike, they still have landlords on edge. 

“As part of my research I go to landlords associations and meetings, all they talk about is Parkdale,” Auguste said.

With landlords increasingly aware of the power of direct action by tenants the assistance of nonprofits will be essential for direct action to continue to be successful.

“Landlords have a number of ways they can go after tenants,” said Webber. “They can signal out specific tenants for eviction, try to turn other tenants against them by denying them access to common spaces in buildings”

Nonprofits and activism 

However, like in every relationship, despite their best intentions activist and non profits often don’t see eye to eye, and when they fight it can get messy. 

“You have to realize that activist are more radical, they do things that can make non profits feel uncomfortable,” 

Those things, according to Auguste et al are mainly direct action. “The activists best tool,” Webber added. 

One of the ways nonprofits can help support direct action in cases like these is to provide material support to organizers. Specifically the report lays out three ways they can help.

  • Material aid such providing meeting spaces, paying for printing and flyering
  • Hire organizers and activists within their organizations
  • Provide training and clinics for tenants

Webber, who works with Parkdale Community Legal Services stressed that non profits could really benefit from the energy coming from tenant activists. 

“They may have the money, but we have the numbers,” Webber said. 

Overall the two are hopeful that the successes from community organizating can be replicated and grown. They point to the examples mentioned earlier in this piece as a possible future for tenant activism in the city around the world. 

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Posted: Dec 11 2019 10:19 pm
Filed under: News